Give children the best START possible

Jonathan Lewis
Jonathan Lewis

One area of the education system that doesn’t always get a lot of focus is early years education, writes Jonathan Lewis, Peterborough City Council director of education.

Whilst much attention is understandably paid to the achievements of primary and secondary schools, preparing children for starting school is hugely important.

If a child starts school confident, curious and eager to learn, then they are in a fantastic position to expand these qualities, achieve good outcomes, and develop into well-rounded individuals.

Early years provision across Peterborough is currently in a good position and has been improving over the past few years. A very high percentage of early years providers within the city have been working hard on improving the quality of their settings, and are now graded Good or above by Ofsted.

While we are pleased that children are accessing good quality provision, we also recognise there is room for improvement.

One recent success story has been our START school readiness programme.

The initiative takes a holistic approach to children’s development, looking to build up their general confidence levels.

There is a central focus on preparing children for everyday tasks such as getting up and getting dressed, eating family meals together, using the toilet on their own, and boosting their understanding of the world around them. This helps children to feel good about themselves, have the confidence to ask questions and develop a bit of independence.

We encourage parents to get actively involved and have produced the START leaflet especially for them, which can be found on the council’s website

It’s full of practical everyday tips, and we actively encourage parents to refer to it and develop their own support skills.

A number of START events have been held at the Queensgate Centre and Serpentine Green, focusing on home-based activities for parents and these have been extremely well attended.

START has received a lot of positive recognition, with parents, outlets and schools finding the programme easy to use and highly effective.

The Early Years Foundation Stage Profile results (at the end of the child’s first year in schools) for 2018 showed a good increase in standards, better than the national average in fact, which we feel is due to a lot of work to drive forward improvements and develop initiatives such as START.

Last year a social mobility peer review of the council’s early years services was carried out, with the review team describing the START programme as ‘transformational’, which was a real feather in our cap.

The review team also suggested some measures for further improvement, including a greater focus on challenge and scrutiny, ensuring that managers’ aspirational targets for speech and language development are shared with childcare providers and boosting the take-up rates for free childcare for eligible two-year-olds.

When we started making improvements a few years ago, one of the first things we did was work with our partners across early years settings, health, Children Centres and schools, to establish a project board to look at ways of improving outcomes for all early years children.

Recognising that parents are a child’s first and most important educators, we looked at ways to give them the resources to assist them in better preparing their children.

Despite the recent progress made, we accept that there is still a long way to go, and more we can do to further improve the service.

We are currently developing Early START information aimed at supporting parents of the youngest children, ensuring that when they start accessing their early years education they are prepared.

Nationally, there is a big drive on improving communication and literacy skills of all children, recognising how important communication is to overall development.

To support this drive, we are developing a number of programmes which we think will make a positive difference for children and parents.

One such project is a mobile phone app for parents offering practical ideas to support children’s early development.

We have 154 childminders and 106 pre schools and nursery schools in Peterborough. I would like to thank the owners, staff and volunteers for the hard work and commitment they show to children every day - you are very much unsung heroes.